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Off-duty Portland Firefighter Saves Couple from Fire-Engulfed Truck

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This is the gripping story of how one of our off-duty firefighters helped save a couple trapped in a fiery car on an icy bridge.

This is the gripping story of how one of our off-duty firefighters helped save a couple trapped in a fiery car on an icy bridge. Nick Weichel is a committed firefighter and paramedic, on duty, and off. PF&R is proud of him for always making a positive difference, wherever he is.

See video here:

by Pat Dooris, KGW reporter

ELSIE, Ore. -- A remarkable rescue took place on an icy Quartz Bridge along Highway 26 leading to the Oregon coast Tuesday. Eleven vehicles slammed into one another, some at highway speeds.

One of the cars belonged to Nick Weichal.

“I went to stop but I couldn’t because I'm on the bridge and its icy," he said. "And I just kept pumping the breaks trying to slow down as fast as I can.”

He was on his way home to the rural town of Elsie, 55 miles west of Portland, after a 48-hour shift as a Portland firefighter. His car hit a pickup but not hard. He felt relief.

“Absolutely. I knew I wasn’t hurt. I knew I didn’t hurt anybody else, at least not very badly,” said Weichal.

The relief was short lived.

"I knew I needed to start helping people," he said.

But unlike a fire call in the city, Weichal was on his own with no equipment or other crews to back him up. And in the instants after the crash other drivers were no help.

“I would say all of them were in shock. Nobody, nobody helped initially,” said Weichal.

He began checking vehicles and found a couple in their 70s, John and Jerrie Olson, trapped inside their pickup truck.

The doors were damaged in the crash and would not open. Suddenly, Weichal’s efforts to get the doors open took new urgency.

“I noticed that there's a fire starting in the engine compartment, which is really bad because they're stuck in there. So what I started doing is just prying on doors with everything that I could find. Mainly my hands and after going from one side to the next I figured the passenger side was going to be the easiest side to open.

So after maybe, a minute of trying it finally let loose and I was able to open it,” he said.

The firefighter pulled Jerrie Olson to safety. But her husband, John was stuck. Weichal knew he had to get inside the truck to help.

“The fire started out as softball sized. It was getting really big. And so I just, I climbed in there with him and started pulling on him. I told him, he's gotta help himself and he knew it. But the extent of his injuries made it so it was really difficult for him to help himself," said Weichal.

The dashboard and driver's door pushed in and down during the crash. Now they trapped the driver’s legs.

“And I just kept coaching him as I’m pulling on him. The whole time the fire's getting bigger and bigger to where the point its coming through the windshield and I’m in there with him trying to pull on him, pulling on his hands and his arms and trying to get up underneath his arm pits to get a good grasp,” Weichal said.

In his 11 years as a Portland firefighter, he’d never put his life on the line like this.

“Feeling the heat for sure,” Weichal said. "There were a couple times where I had to get back out of the vehicle to get a good breath of air and get my face out, basically of the flames and, but he couldn’t do that so I just had to keep going back," he said.

Weichal went back five times. As time slowed, the firefighter turned to his faith for help.

“I was asking God for some strength and I didn’t want to give up and I knew it was rapidly approaching where I wasn’t going to be able to help this guy any longer and that's when my prayers were answered and his leg was free,” he said.

On Wednesday, he was back at work, thankful to be surrounded by his gear and other firefighters. He’s also answering the question, why not stay away from the flames and say you did your best?

“Because I hadn’t. I hadn’t given it my best shot. I just needed to try. I don’t know how to explain it. I just, I couldn’t live with myself if I had given up earlier," he said.

Use PF&R's "Find Your Fire & Rescue Station" Widget

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Want to know which of the City of Portland's 30 fire & rescue stations are assigned to your address? There's now a simple way to do it. If you use our new widget located here and on the front page of our website, you can plug in your address and find out.


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Interested in finding out the latest news from PF&R in real time? You can. Check out our new web feed of press releases from the Flash Alert system that is used to send updates to the media.

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Toy N Joy Makers Helps Over 2,500 Portland Families this Holiday Season

For 99 years, Portland firefighters have been delivering holiday toys to families in need

Today, the folks from Toy N Joy Makers released their stats from the 2013 season. The organization, started within Portland Fire & Rescue and fueled by volunteers and firefighters, collects and distributes toys to Portland families in need. Started in 2014 and sparked when one firefighter fixed an old wagon for a neighborhood boy, the program is now a local institution counted on by countless families and organizations. For the 2013 season, Toy N Joy gave gifts to 10,256 children. Almost 50,000 toys were distributed, with 91 businesses and organizations helping by hosting and filling toy collection boxes.

Next year the program celebrates its 100th year of giving: it will be the best year yet!

Happy Holidays from Chief Erin Janssens

Wishing the very best to you and yours...

On the eve of this holiday, I want to wish you and yours the very best. Tomorrow, as with every day, each of our 30 stations will be fully staffed around the clock to respond when the community calls. It is truly an honor to serve the city of Portland and help others.

A special thanks to the men and women of Portland Fire & Rescue who remain on duty so others can be home celebrating with their families.

Stay safe out there and happy holidays,

Portland Fire & Rescue